Permission to Be Depressed
Our culture has shifted a lot in the last few years. Much of the world that our parents knew and grew up with has changed irrevocably. Nonetheless, many men, regardless of their social location and age, have grown up with the mantra “boys don’t cry.”
This untrue statement has sunk in deep for many men, so much so that as with past generations, they feel it is a sign of weakness to concede that they are in pain, emotional distress, or in need of assistance.
They feel like they don’t have permission from their male role models, their friends, or even their family, to be vulnerable and acknowledge what’s happening in their lives. This is one of the bigger obstacles in dealing with depression in men – acknowledging that the problem exists in the first place.
Wherever this mantra and its underlying bravado come from, it certainly doesn’t seem to originate from, nor is it supported by the Bible. There are many biblical examples of men of valor engaging with their emotions and dealing with emotional and mental issues.
This is because Biblical manhood is about being fully human before God, and human beings were created as emotional, physical, spiritual, and conscious beings. And since we live in a world broken by sin, there is any number of things that affect our health, including our mental and emotional health. It makes sense then that we would encounter several examples of people wrestling with these issues.
Elijah, the fiery prophet of Israel, had to deal with burnout and possible depression after his epic battle with the false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). After being threatened by Queen Jezebel, Elijah lost the will to live and asked God to take away his life. God refused his request and instead nursed him back to health (1 Kings 19).
David, the man of war and one of the more famous kings of Israel, mourned for many nights on several occasions and composed several poems about it after being betrayed and hounded by enemies, among other things. He wrote in one poem, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes” (Psalm 6:6-7). In another poem he wrote, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Psalm 13:1-2). Whatever he was dealing with, it clearly weighed heavily on his heart and mind and brought him low.
Jesus, the Son of God, wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). Our culture has created a false dichotomy in asking men to eschew their emotions; if we are human beings, we have emotions and hormones coursing through our bodies on a normal day. And since we live in a broken world, these can get disordered and bring about depression.
Depression sometimes results from specific circumstances such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, or from a chemical imbalance in our brains. It is not a sign of weakness to recognize and admit what’s going on with our brains and bodies and to try and remedy it. Far from it – it is a sign of strength and the willingness to help ourselves for our own sake and the sake of those around us.
Symptoms of Depression in Men
The symptoms of depression in men can vary from individual to individual. It is important to seek the help of a counselor who can assist you in exploring where you are if you suspect you may be depressed, and how best to proceed.
The following list may cover none, some, or all of what you may be feeling:
- Aimlessness, and feeling a lack of purpose and value may signal depression.
- Feeling apathetic about stuff that used to excite and energize you may be a symptom of depression.
- Not eating well and losing weight as a result. For some, when depression hits it causes them to lose their appetite and stop eating regularly.
- Overeating and gaining weight. For others, their struggle with depression leads them to turn to food as a source of comfort. As a result, they gain weight and that may feed further into the cycle of depression.
- Finding yourself feeling sad for extended periods of time. You may understand the exact reason you’re feeling sad, or perhaps it eludes you. But this kind of sadness is persistent and pervasive, coloring other aspects of your life.
- Shutting yourself off from the world. This may include not hanging out with your friends and family, not enjoying activities you used to participate in like hiking, going out for movies or playing and watching sport. You may begin skipping things like your usual workout routine or find that it no longer elicits the usual level of enthusiasm.
- A corollary of shutting yourself from the world is immersing yourself in a virtual world away from your real-world life. For some men, the pull towards isolating themselves in video games, fantasy sports leagues, alcohol, and pornography is how they escape the pressures of their lives and shut themselves off from others.
- Not caring for grooming and personal hygiene. Elements of daily life such as taking a shower, changing your clothes, shaving, brushing your teeth and other rituals of self-care begin to fall away or feel extremely burdensome when depression sets in. It all seems like too much work and often falls by the wayside as a result.
- You may find yourself crying more frequently and over things you usually would not cry over.
- Sleeping a lot more than usual may also be a symptom of depression.
- For other people who typically sleep well, insomnia may signal a bout of depression.
- You may find yourself wishing for death, or your thoughts dwelling a lot on death and dying.
This list is not an exhaustive one, but it is meant as a starting point for you if you’re wondering whether you are or someone close to you is struggling with depression. As noted above, the symptoms of depression in men vary from person to person, so it is helpful to book an appointment and see a professional for an assessment.
For some, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy will be helpful to address their depression and unhelpful thought patterns. For others, they may need additional assistance with anti-depressants.
Christians, it must be reiterated, are not immune from the ravages of the rebellion of Adam and Eve, commonly known as the Fall (Genesis 3). The brokenness that entered the world at that point affects us all as humans, as well as the rest of Creation.
We are all, as the Apostle Paul put it, “groaning” (Romans 8:22-23) as we eagerly await the renewal of the world and our bodies. It is an unnecessary added burden of guilt to feel like you’re failing as a believer if you struggle with depression.
Just as we all get sick and will eventually die, depression does not come about due to faithlessness or disobedience; sometimes it is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, something we cannot control. These misconceptions about depression can be very damaging and prevent people from getting the help and support they need.
You and your loved ones are not alone in this. Not only is God aware of your situation, but there are others (in Biblical times and at present) who have walked and are walking the same road of dealing with depression.
If you need to talk to someone for encouragement or want more information about depression, do not hesitate to contact a Christian counselor who will take you through not only what the Bible has to say about this disease, but also talk you through the various treatment options available.
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